Caritas Vietnam: Visiting Families in Need on World Day of the Poor
In response to Pope Francis’ command to “stretch forth your hand to the poor” (Sir 7:32), on the 4th annual World Day of the Poor, a Caritas Vietnam delegation led by the new National Director, Fr. Joseph Ngo Si Dinh, OP., recently visited and gave gifts to local needy families.
“I have just been appointed as Director of Caritas Vietnam at a time when people in Central Vietnam are suffering from a terrible, historic flood that has caused much pain and loss for the people” Fr. Joseph explained. “It was just before World Day of the Poor that I went to visit that region to assess the situation, to monitor, and to begin drafting a disaster recovery plan. These events served as a powerful and humbling reminder to me about Caritas' mission of caring for the poor and disadvantaged in our society.”
The World Day of the Poor, declared by Pope Francis in 2016 and first celebrated in 2017, offers us an opportunity to see with fresh eyes our neighbors who live in devastating poverty, in an otherwise prosperous and thriving city.
The first family visited was that of Mr. N.V.H. in Tam Binh Street, Thu Duc district, Ho Chi Minh City. The delegation crossed slippery roads and rocky soil to reach the house, a structure of plywood and patchwork plastic sheets in an otherwise vacant patch of flood-prone land. Stooping to enter through the low door, Mr. H welcomed us to a single room which the family uses for cooking and eating, as well as for sleeping.
“We rented this vacant land, then built our hut for 350,000 VND per month,” Mr. H shared. “Every day I sell lottery tickets. I have to sell all 150 tickets to pay for my wife’s medicine. She needs three pills per day. How I can earn enough?”
The second family we visit lives in a different alley, but in similar conditions. Having migrated from Soc Trang province, they arrived in Ho Chi Minh City and built their small house on this low-lying, rented land. Mrs. Nguyen Thi Mai, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, is a 29 year-old mother of three children. The two older children attend a school for immigrants run by the Sisters of Our Lady of the Blessed Mother. The youngest was just 19 days old on the day of our visit. Mrs. Mai explained her family’s difficulties: “I left my husband because he was drunk all day, doing nothing. Now my parents take care of us. My mother picks water spinach every day to earn 70,000 VND ($3). I am sick with thyroid disease. If I don't have medicine, I can't speak. It makes me very tired. They tell me I would be fine if I get a surgery, but at the cost of 40 million VND for the operation, I will just have to live with this disease. To pay for the cost of giving birth and milk for my baby, I had to mortgage my motorbike. It’s the most valuable thing I own. I was only able to afford it after many years of working. Now I have to pay the interest on my loan every month, 2 million VND. We depend on my parents for everything.”
Although these migrants live in poverty, they still exude the simplicity and innocence of the Southwestern people. We were humbled and inspired by their smiling eyes, by the children’s innocent playfulness, and by the love between them.
Mrs Mai and her newest baby, 19 days, all of them staying with their parents
Faced with the magnitude of poverty in our society, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Perhaps we will never be able to help each one of our neighbors. Still, there is much that we can do to “stretch forth our hand” to them: a word of encouragement, a listening ear, an extra bowl of rice. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta said: "not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love. If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one person.”
Our Popes have reminded us that “Caritas is at the heart of the Church.” World Day of the Poor is a moment to remember and deepen our dedication to placing the poor at the center, to raising them up, and to ensuring that we hear their voices.
When we meet those in need, may we always feel joy, because it is an opportunity to encounter the Lord himself being with the poor (Mt 25:40). As Pope Francis tells us, “the poor are and always will be with us to help us welcome Christ’s presence into our daily lives” (cf. Jn 12:8).
Some more photos
Quynh Tam - Caritas Việt Nam